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Romans 3:23-6:23
Key Verse: 3:23

I really thank God that He has given me this opportunity to reflect on the words of His gospel this Easter 2015. Hearing the gospel, and really giving ear to what God wants to say to you personally is often a different matter. My prayer for this message is that we may each give ear to God’s words and hear Him personally as He speaks the life-giving words of His gospel to us.

“For what I received, I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:3,4

What is the gospel? Let’s read the first gospel key verse. The gospel in its literal translation means ‘good news’. We love good news! Immediately, our hearts are filled with anticipation of good things in store for us. There are many kinds of good news---but the gospel takes exception above them all: it is good news from God. Thus in giving us the gospel, God reveals that He is the Giver of Good News; He reveals He desires good things for us. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 also reveals that the giving and receiving of this good news is a first and foremost concern in God’s heart. Not only does God want good news for you—your receiving it ranks of highest importance in His heart. Paul, a servant set apart for the gospel of God preaches the gospel he received with first importance---because this is how important the gospel is to God.

So what is the content of this good news from God? 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 tells us clearly: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.” Therefore, the good news of God is about the revelation of Christ. The first revelation about Christ is that He died for our sins. Thus, one of the things God’s good news to us is to reveal how we are actually sinners.

I. God’s News To Us About Sin

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

So what does being a sinner mean? The definition of sin is ‘missing the mark’. Often people think of sin as ‘doing what I should not be doing’, or ‘doing immoral or bad things’. According to Romans 3:23 however, sin is much more than a simple miss at some arbitrary ideal, nor is it even a falling short of a concept of goodness--- rather, sin is about one’s corrupted relationship toward God. So the first thing we must know about being sinners is how our relationship with God is not right. The question is, how did we come to be sinners? To better understand what sin is, it is helpful for us to go back to Genesis, where at one point there actually was no sin. God created the first man without sin! After creating the world and man in it, God gave Adam His fundamental word to set up the right order for man’s life and happiness. The fundamental content of God’s word to Adam is simply: to thank God and glorify God as God through obedience. This is how created man could have a relationship with his Creator God. While Adam honoured God’s command in his heart, he had a right relationship with God, living alongside with God in a beautiful and abundant paradise God had even provided for man. But when man no longer took care to be thankful, he took God for granted instead. Doubt of God’s love entered his heart and thoughts, he considered not believing the truth of God’s words, to the point where man even desired to be like God himself. With such a heart toward God, man sinned in direct disobedience toward God’s command. Thus, sin is much more than simply a matter of not eating or not doing certain things, but points to the fundamentally problematic deep-rooted response of man to live life without God at all and to become like god in his own right. Romans 1:21 explains how the problem of sin is not even about not knowing God: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him.” Sin is really a great offence of man against God, toward God. Man was only created in God’s image; he was created for God, not for himself.

Often we think the consequence of man’s sin against God resulted in man being kicked out of paradise. But the book of Genesis shows us that the immediate consequences of sin rather were fear, shame & guilt. Man hid from God for the first time. Even Adam & Eve’s love relationship with each other changed and became filled with blame and distrust. Though they were still surrounded physically by paradise, they could no longer enjoy it. The fruits of man’s sin are really hard to bear---harder than the physical loss of paradise: broken relationships, fear, unrest, meaninglessness. This is why the abundance of material wealth could not solve our deepest problems, try as hard as we might to appeal to them as a solution.

“For the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23a

Man cannot source his own life; he did not create his life, but merely received it from God. But in rejecting God, he cuts himself off from his only source of life. Death is only a logical conclusion of man’s sin. According to Romans 6:23a, “For the wages of sin is death.” It is interesting that scripture should use the word ‘wages’ to denote man’s relationship with sin. Sin changed the meaning of man’s work. Before sin, man’s work consisted in carrying out God’s given mission. God created man to be a ruler in taking care of creation. However, after man sinned, he became a slave to creation, working hard to feed himself three meals a day till the day he dies. Because of the inescapable reality of death, sin makes man’s work and life so meaningless; sinful man may work hard but payment for his labour ends by his becoming food for the worms. Man, once ruler of creation because of sin became even lower than worms. Sin also forces us to work very hard in trying to compensate for the very things that God is meant to provide. Many of us work very hard simply to eat. We work very hard for protection & security. Still others work very hard to secure love in their lives. But man was not created to be a beggar of love, but to be a recipient of God’s love. Our casual attitude toward sin has us deceived to think that sin is harmless fun, or that it provides us with some pleasure. But when we receive the truth about sin, we see how much we actually suffer a lot under it. Sin doesn’t only cause one to die, it can also cause one to want to die. For the wages of sin is death.

II. God’s News of Judgment To Us

“Just as man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment.” Hebrews 9:27

Death is the evidence of one’s broken relationship with God, regardless of whether or not that person believes of themselves to be a sinner. In the same way, God’s judgment of us is just as certain, regardless of whether or not we believe it will happen.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10

There will be one judge: Christ. God put everything under Christ’s feet, and His word clearly tells us that there is only One Person whose opinion matters in the course of our living out the details of our lives---it’s Jesus’s. Often, we have our own notions of Jesus Christ as being very kind, He is very forgiving, full of compassion, love and goodness. But Jesus is also judge; He will judge us. 2 Corinthians 5:10 tells us that He will judge by giving to each person what is due him, for things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Thus, not only the things you want to show, but also the things you want to hide. Jesus’ manner of judgment will be very fair and according to truth. It is so important for us to have a right concept of who Jesus is. Who Jesus is to you will matter the most. Everything you’re about, the sum of your life’s decisions, accomplishments & thoughts will all be measured in relation to Him. How often we live our daily lives trying to meet the standards of profs, working for the approval of our bosses, satisfying our clients, fulfilling the expectations of parents & family, striving for the acceptance of our friends, colleagues & society. Even in matters such as studying for exams, studying the bible, writing testimony or serving God’s word to students, attending worship service. Do we pursue all these things in the pursuit of Christ and His approval? In the end, only Jesus’ opinion about the issue is what matters. Whatever it is we do, in all our dealings, even in simple matters such as eating and drinking, whether in striving to do what is good, even when serving others, do we do it in measurement to our relationship with Christ?

“God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self -seeking, who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

Romans 2:6-9

God’s judgment is not mysterious; He actually tells us about how this judgment will take place. God will give to each person not only according to what he has done, but also according to what he seeks. A person’s action is an expression of one’s seeking; He is a God who sees everything including the seeking of a man’s heart. To those who truly seek to give God glory, seek God’s honour and seek what is eternal with persistence, God will give exactly what he has sought: eternal life. This manner of seeking with persistence tells us that it’s not only a one-time event, but a repetition of instances, extending perhaps to the last of days. Persistence also implies that it was not an easy way of seeking, it is a search rife with obstacles and one that demands high personal costs—perhaps even the kind that costs one’s own life. But to such a person who truly seeks God in this way, God gives eternal life. Eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3). Thus, eternal life is not about the ‘objects’ associated with it, such the mansions in heaven, or living a life of ‘paradise’ in the afterlife. Eternal life is God Himself. All those things come only because God is the source of them. What have you been seeking?

Scripture reveals that there are only two categories of people at the time of judgment. The direct opposite of those who do not seek God are not exactly the evil or those who do ‘bad things’. Often, people have the notion that as long as they don’t do bad things, they’ll get to heaven, or as long as the good things they do somehow outweigh or outnumber the bad things they’ve done, they’re fine. This is not true at all. Because God reveals in His word to us that the direct opposite of those who seek God are those who are self-seeking, who reject truth and follow evil. This will come as a surprise to many. We live in such a self-centered society. In many ways, a self-centered way of life is the only way we know how to live. Our pursuits are guided by directives such as “Glorify yourself” , “Be yourself”, “Self-esteem”, “Take Care of Yourself”, “Love yourself” , “Self-help”, “DIY” etc. But these things are not new; this is sin. This too applies when we come to Jesus with a self-seeking purpose; when we come to Him because it is good for us, or because He gives me good things, or because He is good for my life’s goals, or even because He is the ticket for me to get to heaven. It will be a rude awakening even for Christians to discover on the day of judgment that they’ve not been seeking God at all but self-seeking the whole time. How we seek God matters even for believers. Thus, when we come to faith we must also take care that it’s absolutely about God. The moment we’re not God-seeking, we’re self-seeking.

We will also be judged according to our response toward truth; whether we accepted it or rejected it. God also looks at our relationship toward what is evil: it is not merely about doing evil that matters, but in following it as well. These days we easily follow each other through social & civic leaders, trends, blogs, twitter, Instagram, etc. We may even think it’s alright to follow along insofar as we don’t participate in the act. Following can be an expression of seeking. God clearly warns us of the dangers of who we seek and follow. There are only two kinds of people in the end. To those who are self-seeking, who reject truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. God’s wrath is His divine judgment upon sin and sinners. It is not at all a casual response toward ungodliness—but a righteous anger, the sort where it is right to be angry--that is fierce in expression & execution. God wants us to know that He is also a God of wrath---because He is a righteous God. Yes, God is love. Yes, God is good. His love and goodness includes Him being just. In justice, He must punish sin thoroughly.

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars, their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8 < GKV 7:The Second Death>

God gives us a list to help us see the sinners we become when we do not seek Him. We become cowards when we fear people and other things more than we fear God. This applies even to those who may know Christ, but are unable to render proper glory, honour & worship to Him because they fear other things. The unbelieving are those who do not accept God, the truth of His Word and His ways-- preferring to accept instead what they deem is acceptable to themselves. The vile are those who do things that are detestable and disgusting to God. The murderers are more than those who shed innocent blood. According to Jesus, those who are angry with their brother are already murderers, in danger of the fires of hell. When we’re confronted with the story of a murderer, it’s easy to think ‘oh, I can never do that.’ But when we despise our brother in our heart, we actually have more in common with a murderer than we thought. In the same way, the sexually immoral are more than those who’ve physically committed adultery. Jesus reveals God’s eyes, who see those who’ve looked at another person lustfully. They have already committed adultery in their heart. Those who practice magic arts are those who seek direction from superstition, witchcraft and divination; accepting directions for living that derive from things other than God. Idolaters replace the worship of God with other things as more important in their lives. In this regard, there are many ways we commit idolatry, such as when we seek money, love, people, success--- or anything we depend on other than God. Even our ‘selves’ can be idols. Lying can be an ultimate expression of self-seeking; we lie to save ourselves and we show that we don’t care about God at all--who is Truth. God gives very clear warning of His judgment against sinners: their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This event of second death will be one where they will be completely cut off from God forever and it will be a place of endless and intense suffering.

When I first read this key verse, I thought: ‘I’m not the vile. I don’t do disgusting things.’ Until I read more about God’s wrath in Romans 1 wherein God describes His wrath to those “who did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done, being filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity—even to the point of inventing ways of doing evil. Who, though knowing those who do such things deserve death, not only continue to do these very things themselves but also approve of those who practice them.” There’s a trial going on right now about a man (Brian Way) who was arrested and charged for distributing child pornography but one where he counterclaims is art. The matter is still being decided before the courts. Without clarity on where to stand, pornography, even one that is pedophilic in nature easily becomes art. God describes the desperate situation of sinners who cannot tell their right hand from their left (Jonah 4:11). I was such a sinner. I do not love pornography nor do I condone pedophilia at all, but I loved art and I loved philosophy. Without God’s truth of sin & evil, how easy it is for me to approve of things I do not want to approve. Lines are so easily blurred and you’d be surprised to find how is easy it is to reason and make the transition to the condoning of perversion. I may have started out as one who does not want to love such things, but in the process can became a lover of even such things. Without the knowledge of God, my mind became depraved, filled with depravity, and even my mind’s creativity and philosophical ability was used for arguing for the inventing of ways of doing evil & approving of others doing them. I’ve become one of the vile who is disgusting to God, fit only for destruction in His wrath. I really thank God personally for His words of truth that clearly reveal my sin problem because of my self-seeking ways. It is His grace to me, not only so that I may not be counted among those who will be destroyed, but also so that I may not continue in the things I don’t really want to do.

I know that talk about sin and God’s wrath toward sinners is not very popular today. It’s because if we even allow ourselves to be briefly objective and honest about it, God’s wrath is really terrifying, particularly when we’re on the wrong side of it. It is almost easier to shelf the thought or even resist it by thinking how it doesn’t seem to fit our concept of God. But God Himself talks about His wrath to us sinners—a lot and thoroughly. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God---no one is exempt . God gives very clear warning of His wrath against sinners, that we may have eyes to see desperate helplessness of our situation and seek His deliverance.

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